Product Manager Microbiology
AnalytiX Volume 7 Article 3
Streptococci are non-motile, microaerophilic, Grampositive spherical bacteria (cocci). They often occur as chains or pairs and are facultative or strict anaerobes. Streptococci give a negative catalase test, while staphylococci are catalase-positive. The cell division of Streptococci species involves two separate biosynthetic events: peripheral cell-wall elongation and septal-wall synthesis.1 Because they are unable to synthesize cytochromes, Streptococci cannot carry out oxidative phosphorylation. They are able to ferment sugars, but the end product is always lactic acid. Therefore, Streptococci are very acid tolerant and count among the lactic acid bacteria order.
There are many natural sources of Streptococci, including humans and diverse animals where they often colonize the mucosal surfaces of mouth, intestinal tract, nasal passages and pharynx. The presence of Streptococci in drinking water indicates fecal contamination. Food sources with high risk of Streptococcal contamination include milk and dairy products, eggs, steamed lobster, ground ham, potato salad, custard, rice pudding and shrimp salad. In most Streptococcal food poisoning cases, the food was allowed to stand at room temperature for several hours between preparation and consumption. The contamination of the food is most often the result of poor hygiene, handling of the food by infected people, or the use of raw (unpasteurized) milk. Although they can be potent pathogens, some Streptococci are commercially important for the production of cheese and yogurt. These include S. lactis, S. cremoris, S. diacelillactis and S. thermophilus, the latter being the most well-known.
For detection, identification, differentiation, enumeration and cultivation of Streptococci, Sigma-Aldrich provides a broad range of specific agars and broths (Table 1), Streptococci Diagnostic Tests (Table 2) and a Gram staining kit and component solutions (Table 3).
Scientific classification of Streptococcus
Grouping of Streptococci based on hemolytic activity
Streptococci are divided into three groups based on their hemolytic (red blood cell lysing) activity. The hemolytic reaction can be visualized on blood agar plates, such as the non-selective Agars for Differentiation that are listed in Table 1.
In alpha hemolysis, the red blood cells remain intact, but the hemoglobin is converted to biliverdin. This causes dark greening of the blood agar plate around the colonies.
Figure 1: Differentiation and identification flow chart of Gram-positive cocci
Beta hemolysis is a complete hemolysis of erythrocytes by the enzyme hemolysin. Clear zones will appear around the colonies on the blood agar plate. Beta-hemolytic Streptococci are further divided into serological groups using specific antibodies that recognize surface carbohydrate antigens (e.g. A, B, etc.).
Non-Hemolytic or Gamma-Hemolytic Streptococci
Gamma hemolysis is a misnomer as there is actually no hemolysis. Non-hemolytic or gamma-hemolytic Streptococci rarely cause disease.